THE HIT (1984)

Directed by Stephen Frears.

Starring: John Hurt, Terence Stamp, Tim Roth, Laura Del Sol

Do you ever read about a film, see its poster, see its DVD cover, like the time period it was made and set, like the genre, like the director, like the actors, like the plot premise, and then hope that it lives up to what you think it is?  Well, I did for this movie, and ... it did!  It was everything I expected it to be -- and I mean that in the best way possible.  There's nothing worse (in the film world) than seeing a trailer, or watching a clip of a movie, or even just reading about it, and getting very excited and then are promptly let down!  That to me is very deflating.  There is that old saying "don't meet your heroes" -- lest you be disappointed.  But yes, to put it simply, THE HIT was great and I loved it.

Terence Stamp is Willie, an ex-criminal who, ten years after turning informer on his old crime partners, is living a simple but happy life in rural Spain.  One day he is kidnapped and handed over to two hit men who have to come finish the job on him for his betrayal.  Expecting that this would one day happen, Willie has an enlightened view on his mortality.  This perplexes the young and rambunctious Myron (Tim Roth), and intrigues his boss, the cold career hit man Braddock (John Hurt).  The three of them set off for France to bring Willie to meet his old partners -- and his maker.

It is a beautiful and stylish road film where the three men -- plus an attractive young Spanish woman they bring along with them -- get to know one another, and test each others limits.  The hit men cannot understand Willie's perspective, and his cool attitude about his approaching execution.  He doesn't flee when he has a chance, and he makes no attempt to steal their weapons.  He is calm, collected, and composed.  The naive Myron is a loose cannon; he likes women, beer, and violence.  The experienced Braddock is weary; he has done this too many times.  You can see on his face that he has seen a lot of death.  You can also see his envy -- and admiration -- of Willie's enlightenment. 

The cinematography is gorgeous.  The barren Spanish countryside is a perfect setting for such a destitute group of people to travel through.  Like our characters, we often see the car from an extreme distance, very impersonally and isolated.  Just a small white vehicle tracing a line across the landscape, creating a tail of dust to be blown away in the wind.

Frears' actors are cast perfectly.  Terence Stamp is perfect as Willie; his slightly mischievous face hints that he might have a secret plan of some sort, but it is also a worldly face, of someone whose intelligence goes much deeper than he lets on.  John Hurt is also perfectly suited for Braddock.  His creased face (even when he was young he looked old), and slightly sad eyes (often covered by sunglasses) belie a regretful resignation that this is all his life is, one filled with violence and death.  And Tim Roth -- a very young Tim Roth -- works amazingly as a wild young man with bleached hair and without a care in the world aside from his pistol, his next beer, and getting his thousand pounds at the end of the job.

If you think you might like this film, you probably will.  I'm creating a list of my favorite crime films from the 1970s and 1980s and this definitely sits near the top of that list.  Frears is an accomplished and skilled director.  He knows how to use style in an effective way that doesn't draw too much attention to itself, but enough that it informs the subject matter and characters.  Well recommended!

Criterion has a gorgeous DVD of it out now (also a clip after the jump).  I borrowed mine from the local library (I requested it over a year ago!).  I'm hoping Criterion will put out a Blu-ray of it some time too.


LINK: "40 Critically Acclaimed But Little Seen Should-be Classics"

Here's a link to a little list someone has put together about some old films that are critically acclaimed, but are forgotten.  I assumed I would have seen more than one of them, but no, I had seen only Jean-Pierre Melville's LE DEUXIEME SOUFFLE, which is also one of my favorite films!  That being said I certainly recognized a handful of them.  But if nothing else, this list underlines a point that I have been trying to make with this blog, and that is that there is a virtually bottomless supply of wonderful movies out there!  We live in a world that creates many thousands of films each year, and have been doing it for well over a century.  While this list might be a little obscure for the layperson, even for myself as a cinephile, it is a great reminder to keep one's eyes open.  If you are reading this, then you probably have an interest in film.  Do yourself a favour and go to the library and borrow films, read sites like Criterion.com (or this blog!) for ideas, or go to a film festival.  There's so much out there!

40 Critically Acclaimed But Little Seen Should-be Classics


An upcoming documentary about American contemporary photographer Gregory Crewdson.  I'm not familiar with his work, but as a photographer, film maker, and film lover, I am interested to see this!  Crewdson's photographs appear to be highly cinematic, in their rigorous attention to detail, composition, and story.  I have read some criticism of his work as vapid, obvious, and superficial, but again, not knowing his work, I cannot say myself how I feel.  What does intrigue me, is how his photos might trigger something in me, like an idea, or the germ of a story to be teased out.  The nature of photography leads it to being a starting off point, the genesis of a discussion or a thought for the viewer, and despite what criticism there is out there about Crewdson's work as being only skin deep, if it gets one thinking, acting, or re-acting, then more power to him.  I think I will seek out this film.  I have seen several interesting documentaries about photographers, like WAR PHOTOGRAPHER and ANNIE LEIBOVITZ: LIFE THROUGH A LENS, and being a photographer myself, it is always interesting seeing how those at the top of the medium work.

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters Trailer from Benjamin Shapiro on Vimeo.



I was just watching one of the real estate videos that I shot last week, and the stock music my editor chose to overlay on the soundtrack totally reminded me of the xylophone music from this wonderful Terrence Malick film from 1973, BADLANDS.  I watched this when I was in school several times, and if I do recall, had to do a sequence analysis on a section of it for a final exam.

Anyways, it is certainly high time that I rewatch this, as it is a beautiful film.  This is also Malick's debut feature film.  The trailer below basically gives you the plot line.  Also the music I'm referring to is in there too.  Take a look!  And then go rent it!


The Good Thief (2002)

THE GOOD THIEF is a both great character film and heist film.  They call it a "retelling" of Jean-Pierre Melville's classic film BOB LE FLAMBEUR about an aged gambler and heist orchestrator who wants to pull the fabled "one last heist." He is is drawn to a misguided teenaged girl who is at risk of going down all the wrong paths -- drugs, alcohol, and prostitution.  Bob assembles his crew of heisters and together they plot to rob a casino, although it never goes quite as planned.  In typical Melvillian fashion (as in the filmmaker, not the author), there is an equally interesting detective who knows Bob is planning a big job and is determined to catch him.  Many of Melville's films offer up two foils: one criminal, and one police, and shows us how they are often two sides of the same coin, seperated only by their job descriptions, but are basically driven by respective desires to be the pursued and the pursuer.  This is a theme that was also explored in films like HEAT, and even THE DARK KNIGHT.

Up until now, everything in the description above could be applied to either BOB LE FLAMBEUR or THE GOOD THIEF.  The basic stories are quite similar, but after that they part dramatically.  While Melville told his story mainly in and around Paris, director Neil Jordan sets THE GOOD THIEF in Monte Carlo and Nice.  But make no mistake, this isn't the picturesque Cote D'Azur you might imagine, it is the seedier world of the backstreets, dingy apartments, dingier nightclubs, and bars.  Not to mention drug use, violence, prostitution, illegal immagration, racial tension, and the less glamourous side of gambling.  Jordan's film resonates with contemporary France, a country struggling with a massive North African population of both legal and illegal immigrants, all trying to find their road to success, in varying degrees of legitimacy.

Nick Nolte as Bob.
The Bob character in this is also a little rougher around the edges.  Nick Nolte plays Bob here, a sort of ex-pat gambler junkie, who, like Nolte himself, appears as though he has woken up from a 30 year alchohol-gambling-heroin binge.  When he is straight, Bob is a talented gambler, and an even more talented thief (those both seem to go together so well).  But he knows he that his luck is just about gone.  In Anne, a young Russian immigrant, he sees a sort of redemption.  While he is old enough to be her grandfather, he is drawn to her, in primarily a paternal way, although she enjoys teasing him with her nubile sexuality.  Determined to pull off a last big job and to--we can extrapolate--possibly set up Anna for life, rescuing her from a (short) life of prostitution and drugs.  So Bob decides to clean up, he handcuffs himself to his bedframe, and with the help of his friends and Anna, curbs his heroin use.

Nutsa Kukhianidze as Anne.
Several days later, and with a slightly clearer head, he assembles his team of heisters and plans to rob a Monte Carlo casino of its 80 million francs the night before the Grand Prix, or its priceless paintings, or... both.  This is where the film holds its cards close to its chest by letting us into most of the heist plot, but slowly revealing twists and turns as the supporting cast of eccentrics go through their trials and tribulations. Despite their familiar roles: locksmith, strongman, inside man, techy guy, they are all interesting variations on what now is sort of a cliched heist team--take Philippe, for instance, the body builder who we quickly learn has gone through a sex-change operation, and now goes by Phillipa.

Although the heist is the climax of the film, it is not the really the main theme.  It is sort of the engine which drives the plot forward, but it really is a device which enables them to reveal their fears, anxieties, and passions to each other and to us.  When the heist finally goes down, Bob is in the casino gambling with Anne, as an alibi, and he is telling her his rules of gambling.  And while this is part of The Plan, we get the sensation that this is really the point of it all for him, to pass on wisdom to this young woman, to impart something on her that will make her take her life in a new and healthier direction.  And this is really where Jordan's strengths are, in the intimate interactions between mismatched characters.

It is also a very stylish film--even if it feels a little dated now--with the dramatically expressive colour palette, and the 90s new agey soundtrack (some Leonard Cohen and U2 b-sides there), but is is a definite worthwhile watch.  This is the role that Nick Nolte was born for, and with an excellent supporting cast of European actors, an interesting locale, and some smart plot work, Jean-Pierre Melville would probably be proud of this thoughtful reinterpretation of his classic French crime story.

(EDIT: The last paragraph I originally got the age of the film mixed up!  I thought it was older, a more 90s film.  But it was 2002.  I guess time flies when you're having fun!  Anyways, I've altered that paragraph to reflect that.)



Written, produced, and directed by Whit Stillman.

Well, I've had a run of great movies lately, and I've finally gotten a chance to write about them!  Something I seem to touch on regularly is how many wonderful films there are out there on the shelves, in the stacks, the depths of the internet, or wherever it is you look for films.  It is always such an incredible joy to be reminded that there is basically an endless supply of films out there that one has never heard of, and further, among those, there are bound to be numerous treasures waiting to be (re)discovered!  Being a sucker for some slick packaging and presentation, the Criterion Collection is a place I return to, and it is also a fantastic place for anyone interested in film to start looking around.  Their website is a treasure trove of information that can lead to discoveries of all sorts of genres, filmmakers, and foreign film industries in which lie many of the great films of the world.  Case in point, I came across one of America's (largely uncelebrated) great filmmakers, Whit Stillman. The writer-directer is also responsible for METROPOLITAN (which I have seen) and BARCELONA (which I haven't).  The former earned him a nomination for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar.

While METROPOLITAN focused on a young man attempting to move up a social level into a more "intellectual" class of white, rich, snobby (and yet slightly endearing) Manhattan college kids, THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO follows primarily a young woman Alice (90s It-girl Chloe Sevigny), and her white, upper-middle-class, slightly snobby friends (also kind of endearing), as they live their professional lives in Manhattan, renting apartments they can't afford (at least not without parental support), spending their days working for ad agencies or publishing houses, and their nights frequenting Studio 54-style nightclubs.  And of course, this all takes place -- you guessed it -- during the last days of disco, the very early 1980s.  In many ways a continuation of the characters found in METROPOLITAN (though chronologically this takes place years before that storyline), it discusses many of the themes found in that earlier film.  These young WASPy kids are coming to terms with themselves, and while, maybe not having existential crises, they are grappling with where they fit in the world, what to do with themselves, and what kind of relationships they want to have.  I should add as a disclaimer that, while rich white people may not necessarily be the kind of people who deserve the most sympathy, they are still a demographic which exists, and whose situation deserves an examination once in a while.  And Whit Stillman's writing walks this line smartly.  He never asks us to cry for them, but rather allows each one to exist and develop as they grow and learn about themselves.  Oh, and Stillman isn't afraid to make fools of his characters for our gratification.

Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale) and Alice (Chloe Sevigny), two 1980s yuppie socialites looking for love.

Stillman is a filmmaker who is especially known for his writing, and the dialogue in this film is smart and interesting.  Like many characters spawned in the 1990s (both in the time when the film was made, but also, I suppose, in the time period it is set, the 1980s) they relate to each other through cultural references.  While his characters in METROPOLITAN largely related to each other through passages of literature and classical novels, the people in THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO are more media saturated, and a heated conversation and analysis of the meaning of film like LADY AND THE TRAMP can reveal something about each person.  While not hugely recognized by the masses, Stillman's influence can be felt in filmmakers ranging from Wes Anderson, to Quentin Tarantino, to Noah Baumbach.  His films emerged in the incredibly fertile 1990s indie scene, a time when audiences where fascinated by the concept of characters sitting down and having a conversation about movies, music, or social norms.  Today, this kind of writing feels indulgent.  But back in the 1990s it was very fresh. 

Take a look at Whit Stillman's THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO.  I really enjoyed it, and it has some great music, some charming characters (and some wonderfully despicable ones -- see Kate Beckinsale's Charlotte), and a great story.  As well, I think the final scene/shot and end credits are one of my new favorites.  I still have "Love Train" in my head.


End scene/credits (slight spoiler -- but if it gets you interested then maybe it's worth it!):


Written and directed by David Mamet.

If you are familiar with Mamet, you know that he is known for his incredible smart and intricate plots, as well as his colourful dialogue, and in HOUSE OF GAMES, his debut feature film, he shines.  I just watched this and it was brilliant!  I'm trying to remember where I heard about it, but I'm glad I put it on my "to-watch" list when I did because this is truly a hidden gem of a film.  It is a sharp and witty neo-noir, steeped in expressive lighting, paranoia, twists and turns, and dynamic characters.  It is a world where it is impossible to know who to trust, and even the protagonist's motives are dubious.

Straight-edged Dr. Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse)
The story is that of a successful therapist who has recently hit it big with a best-selling self-help book.  Dr. Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) has everything: a successful career, burgeoning fame, money, and respect from her peers, but something seems to be missing in her precise and regulated life.  She is a workaholic, and has become so engrossed in her cases that she has begun to blend her own life with that of her subjects.  A friend suggests she step back and take time to enjoy life, to do something that excites her, now she has accomplished some life goals.  Taking this advice, she follows up a lead and visits a man, Mike (Joe Montegna) who is putting one of her clients under extreme personal stress.   Her patient, a gambling addict, appears to owe Mike twenty-five thousand dollars, and he's threatened to kill him if he can't return it by the next day.  From here Margaret crosses over into the world of the confidence man.  She becomes obsessed with learning the motives of a man like Mike, and wants to learn more about how a morally ambiguous person like him operates day-to-day.  To Mike, and herself (superficially, it would seem), she claims her curiosity is driven by her profession as "a writer".  But deep down inside they both know that she lusts after some excitement, an edge to her life that can give the rest of it all meaning.

A younger Joe Montegna is a smooth-as-ice cardsharp.

What follows is a twisty and turny mystery story, where it is impossible to say where reality ends and a con begins.  Margaret becomes involved in a confidence scheme, but who is really being fleeced?  Characters come and go, but who knows whether they truly are strangers, or just accomplices in on the take?  It is also a intriguing look into the world of the confidence man.  This is not a new or original topic to be explored in film, but under Mamet's expert scripting, it becomes a fascinating film to watch.  Mamet is primarily known for his theater, but his is an art that translates effectively to film.  At times it feels like it is theater, but it doesn't matter, his dialogue is immersing.  His actors deliver the lines theatrically, and I mean this not as a criticism, but rather an observation.  Like many great films, where the actors speak in ways that people likely wouldn't normally -- for example old film noirs like THE BIG SLEEP or THE MALTESE FALCON -- the dialogue is so liquid and rich, it doesn't matter.

For anyone interested in Mamet, film noir, mysteries, stories about confidence men, or poker, take a look at this film.  Criterion recently put out an excellent DVD of it.  It is a fascinating film, and one that will leave you questioning things up to -- and beyond -- the last frame.



SKYFALL (2012)

The first teaser trailer for SKYFALL just came out and I am very excited!  It does just what a teaser should: it whets the appetite!  Big time!



So I finally saw Stanley Kubrick's BARRY LYNDON and it was really enjoyable!  For a 3-hour costume period drama, I wasn't expecting to as much as I did!  Granted, I did watch it in a few segments.  And, like 2001, which I also re-watched recently, it has an intermission.  (I wish that was still a thing they did for longer movies).  It's hard to know whether the "Kubrick" factor was the big part of my enjoyment of the film--it did really feel like one of his films--but I do know that the story was compelling, the acting great, and the cinematography beautiful.  I had heard that most of the film, if not all of it, was shot using just natural and candle light, and it is very evident.  I myself am definitely a fan of using natural and available light, and in a period film like this, set in the 1770s, I find that the shadow of artificial movie lighting can really distract me and take me out of the story.  Instead, here we have gorgeous scenes where huge swaths of light stream in through tall palace windows, or gentle afternoon sunlight filters through the trees in a forest.  Kubrick was also said to be influenced heavily by the paintings of the era, and it is very evident.  There are many shots that I'm sure must be direct references to works of art, and the composition of a lot of scenes look quite art-like, with couples placed conveniently in corners of the frame having discussions, or maybe a sheep dog lying lazily in the foreground, a small group of people out rowing in a pond, or maybe a drunk luxuriating on a couch with his hat pulled over his eyes.  Aside from the technical and Kubrick-based aspects I like, I found myself really enjoying the story as well, which is never a bad thing in a film this length.  It follows Redmond Barry (Ryan O'Neal), an Irish lad who basically, through adventure and misadventure, winds up working his way up the ladder of European aristocracy.  He is a likeable character, but not without faults, and O'Neal was wonderful taking him through the years from naive country boy, to aged aristocrat.  So, if you have seen Kubrick's films and enjoy his style, his tracking shots, his occasional zooms, and his precise composition, then this is definitely recommended viewing.  It also won four Oscars, for, not surprisingly, Cinematography, Costume Design, Art Direction, and Musical Score.  Kubrick himself was nominated for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay.  If you've never seen a Kubrick film before, maybe don't start with this, start with FULL METAL JACKET, CLOCKWORK ORANGE, or even THE SHINING, but if you are an avid filmgoer with a passion for beautiful composition in your shots, then this, I have a feeling, you will enjoy!

Kubrick on set.


SAMSARA (2012)

If you are familiar with the stunning and transcendent visual poetry of Ron Fricke's non-narrative documentary BARAKA (1992), his follow up film SAMSARA might interest you as well!  He filmed everything with 70mm film so I will no doubt be gorgeous.  I would write more about this, but part of the magic of Fricke's films are that they have to be seen and experienced, and preferably in a giant theatre.  Here is the trailer.

THE AMBASSADOR Trailer (2011)

Listening to CBC's wonderful show DISPATCHES with Rick McInnes-Rae--which is sadly being axed thanks to the recent cuts in CBC's funding--I heard an interview with Mads Brugger, the Danish filmmaker/star of this fascinating looking documentary.  It sounded like a really interesting story and now that I've seen the trailer I'm determined to find this film somewhere.  Brugger, a journalist, buys himself a title as an ambassador to the Central African Republic, one of Africa's least known countries,  and poses as a diplomat, involving himself in all sorts of dubious affairs.  The corruption of Africa is staggering, no thanks to years of European colonization, and the westernification of the continent means money can get you virtually anything, including an ambassadorship to a foreign nation.  I'm very eager to see this!  Have a look at the trailer:



We watched this film last night and it was pretty incredible!  It is amazingly filmed!  The entire film is pure eye-candy.  From what I understand a huge portion of it was shot with RED cameras, and it shows.  Even if you aren't interested in snowboarding films, I feel it's worth watching for the cinematography alone!  Along with the epic snowboarding, the helicopter piloting is equally impressive!  Keep your eyes peeled for that shot of the chopper in a vertical dive.


New PROMETHEUS trailer!  Looks even more awesome!



Last week we watched this and I quite enjoyed it!  It may not be the kind of movie one would expect me write about on this blog, but I just want to keep my mind as open as possible to films!  I must confess, that reading Roger Ebert's review of this made me interested in seeing this, which, if I remember correctly, I initially didn't want to after viewing the trailer oh the few odd years ago it came out.  Anyways, it concerns (Canadian-born) Rachel McAdams as Becky Fuller, an ambitious television producer who, after being squeezed out of her job for someone worse but more experienced, finds a position as executive producer on a last-placed morning show on the fictional network IBS.  Morning shows generally talk about the most inane topics and news items and this one is no exception.  This isn't lost on the staff--or the talent, for that matter--which is made up with of a team of promising, but non-self-starting individuals looking for guidance.  It doesn't help that the on-camera talent are a couple of weary prima donnas who have become complacent and far too comfortable in their positions.  Desperate to earn some quick respect, Fuller prompty fires the male co-host, a smarmy, rude, and fake-tanned Paul McVee (Ty Burrell).  She's left with the exasperated Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton), a woman who has spent about ten years too long doing the morning circuit, and an empty co-host chair that will need filling.  Enter Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), a Pulitzer-winning journalist with time left on his contract that he is determined to run out without having to work.  Fuller sees her opportunity goes after Pomeroy, who by this stage is comfortable in his semi-retirement, anti-social behaviour, and alcoholism.  Pomeroy has a deep bitterness against both the world and the media, not least of which is the horrid morning show with it's vapid personalities and stories.  Leaning a little on him with a little contractual strong-arming--threatening, actually--Fuller convinces Pomeroy it is in his interest to come back to work, and we have ourselves a twosome for the morning airwaves.  Pomeroy, with his past acclaim, has the biggest ego in the room, but who is not to be outshone by Colleen Peck.  Their rivalry is often hysterical, a battle for camera time, which can ultimately summed up by their dispute over who gets to say "Goodbye" last at the end of the broadcast.  What follows is the sort of expected race-for-ratings-in-the-face-of-imminent-cancelation, and a love story here and there, but MORNING GLORY never feels toooo cliche'd to be entertaining. 

Keaton and Ford.

It is a smart and at times very funny film with some wonderful performances.  Rachel McAdams is great as the Becky Fuller, her career drive and ambition to succeed is believable and never annoying, and she balances it nicely with a sort of melancholic yearning for a functioning relationship and all the other things one might expect to have in their adult lives: children, satisfied parents, a balanced life.  The supporting cast is also a treat, made up of smaller roles which aren't lost to cliches either, played ably by Jeff Goldblum, Patrick Wilson, John Pankow.  But the real stand-out here is surely Harrison Ford.  In a way, it is a surprisingly role for Ford to take, but in a scene where he, as Pomeroy, angrily explains to Fuller why he will not do her morning show he says "I've won a Pulitzer, I've covered war zones, I've been shot at... I'm not going to be on your stupid show!" I was imagining Harrison Ford having the same conversation with the producer or his agent saying "I'm Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Blade Runner, the President,... I'm not going to be in your stupid morning show movie."  But that sort of anger we have come to see in the elder Ford is channeled into this character, and towards the end, Pomeroy sees what is really important, and we get some sweet moments. 
McAdams and Ford.

So!  While maybe not being an award-winning movie, I still found much to like in it, and it was a nice, light, and entertaining look at the at times chaotic behind the scenes environment of morning-television.  Worth seeing if any of what I've written has grabbed your attention.  It sure was a lot better than I thought it would be!



We just recently watched Howard Hawks' 1946 noir classic THE BIG SLEEP starring Bogart and Bacall ("The film they were born for!"), and it is so wonderful--and wonderfully convoluted.



Well it is hard to believe that it took soooo long, but my short film MARS BITCH is finally online on Vimeo!  This was so incredibly fun to make, and we met a lot of great people doing it, and learned a ton about filmmaking.  We are just starting pre-production on our next film, but in the mean time, I hope you enjoy MARS BITCH!

Mars Bitch from LAZRWOOD PRODUCTIONS on Vimeo.


Humphrey Bogart

One of the great icons of the screen, Humphrey Bogart, sadly died of cancer of the esophagus this day in 1957 at the much to young age of 57.  Some of the classic films he starred in include CASABLANCA and THE AFRICAN QUEEN, as well as THE MALTESE FALCON, KEY LARGO, and of course THE BIG SLEEP.  His screen presence is captivating.  Something about Bogie just draws one in with his self-deprecating, if not slightly melancholic, attitude.  I always loved what Roger Ebert wrote about Bogart, so I'll include this eloquant few paragraphs he wrote in an article about THE BIG SLEEP:

"Bogart himself made personal style into an art form. What else did he have? He wasn't particularly handsome, he wore a rug, he wasn't tall ("I try to be," he tells Vickers), and he always seemed to act within a certain range. Yet no other movie actor is more likely to be remembered a century from now. And the fascinating subtext in "The Big Sleep" is that in Bacall he found his match.

"You can see it in his eyes: Sure, he's in love, but there's something else, too. He was going through a messy breakup with his wife, Mayo, when they shot the picture. He was drinking so heavily he didn't turn up some days, and Hawks had to shoot around him. He saw this coltish 20-year-old not only as his love but perhaps as his salvation. That's the undercurrent. It may not have been fun to live through, but it creates a kind of joyous, desperate tension on the screen. And since the whole idea of film noir was to live through unspeakable experiences and keep your cool, this was the right screenplay for this time in his life."


Happy birthday Julia Louis-Dreyfus!

On this day in 1961 Julia Louis-Dreyfus was born. She, of course, played Elaine on Seinfeld, who is possibly my favorite female television character of all time!


LCD Soundsystem is a great band.  So I'm told!  No, I've listened to them a bit and they are really great, I just never got huge into them.  That being said, this documentary about the run up to their last show ever looks pretty compelling!  I like band documentaries, especially when they are behind the scenes-y and this looks like a really beautiful one of those.  I'm putting this on my list!



What more can I add to the roar of applause for this fantastic film that has come out of the woodwork?  I was interested when saw the trailer this past summer.  It seemed like a crazy idea--black and white, silent, with two unknown (in North America anyways) leads.  Maybe not so much of a crazy idea for the smaller art-house circuits, but it has hit the mainstream, and now it is so highly and widely praised, and even the O word--Oscar--is being tossed around.  And it's French!  I mean, personally I think the French have made some of the finest films ever made, think of the films of Melville, Truffaut, Renoir, Malle, and Godard.  Here is another film to add to the amazing canon of French cinema.
George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo)
Now, what makes Michel Hazanavicius' THE ARTIST so great?  Well, for starters it has a wonderful yet simple story: Hollywood 1927, silent movie star, George Valentin (Jean DuJardin) is at the height of his fame and prestige--right on the eve of the adoption of sound in cinema.  Valentin meets a promising young starlet, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), on set one day.  George refuses to believe that sound is the new way, but the demand for silent actors sharply drops off, and his career nosedives.  In contrast, Peppy and her cute beauty spot and her "talkies" takes off.  With his fame and fortune gone and his life in the dumps, George spirals into depression.  But young Peppy never forgets the man who inspired her to pursue her acting career in the first place.

It is a straightforward plot, but it is so poignant in so many ways.  When we came out of the theatre, my girlfriend Maria said "That's exactly what Hollywood needed." And I couldn't agree more!  With all the talk about digital this and 3-D that, it is easy to lose sight of what is most important: the story.  George fought and lost a battle to the new sound generation.  Many are fearing today that "2-D" films are on their way out, along with celluloid film itself, replaced by high-tech digital and computer motion capture devices.  But despite what technology is de rigueur, the main thing required in film is good story and characters.  One can add as much CGI or 3-D effects, but if it does not have that central idea driving it, it is dead in the water.  Sure, there are many great new digitally filmed (including this one, if I'm not mistaken!) and even 3D films out there!  But for ever great one like THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, there are ten crappy CLASH OF THE TITANSs etc.  I may sound like an old fuddy duddy, but there is battle going on in the film world today.  The hype about the technology is so deafening, it's easy to forget why we are all there in the cinema in the first place.  We want to be entertained.  And THE ARTIST is one of those great, smart films (Oh and did I mention it is also hilarious?) that comes along and sweeps you away into the magic of it all, reminding you that in the end all you need is a simple black and white image.  This film knows what it is, and at times draws attention to its own silence.  Of course saying it is a silent film isn't exactly true, it isn't entirely silent, just like the original silent films that were always accompanied by music, or someone performing sound effects.  There is accompanying music, which is subtle, but so effective (at the climax Bernard Hermann's "Scene d'amour," from Hitchcock's VERTIGO!).  And it also makes smart use of a few sound effects a key moments.  And then it uses deafening silence at other key moments. 

I really feel like this is an important film.   I think it is a milestone in cinema, one of those moments where audiences the world over will surprise themselves.  They might acquiesce and find themselves possibly enjoying a French, black-and-white, and silent film.  I've heard that in parenting one finds themselves at times with "teachable moments."  I think this is a cinematic teachable moment.  It is a film that challenges one to reconsider their preconceived notions.  I'm sure that if this becomes nominated for an Oscar (Best Picture?), and heaven forbids, wins (!), it will have many people scratching their heads.  But those will be the people who have either not seen it, or are so stubborn as to refuse to open their minds, to reconsider what they know, or at the very least, refuse to let in the magic of cinema.  But those who get it, who "get" THE ARTIST, who are willing to let something foreign (literally and figuratively) into their eyes and ears will be rewarded.  This is a movie about learning how to say "yes" to new things, and like George Valentin, when you do, and take a chance, you will be rewarded.


Here is the fresh trailer for Wes Anderson's new film MOONRISE KINGDOM!  Yay!  Brilliant!  Looks great.  Hope it is everything we all hope it is!  Cast looks great, so does the premise.  I like it!


Happy Birthday Lee Van Cleef

Today is what would have been Lee Van Cleef's 86th birthday.  He was born this day in 1925.  I know him most from Sergio Leone's spaghetti western masterpiece THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966), but he also appeared in many other westerns, for Leone and for others, including Fred Zinnemann's great HIGH NOON (1952), Leone's FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965), John Ford's THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962) and had countless small roles in western TV shows including "The Lone Ranger," "Laramie," "Gunsmoke," and "Branded."  But I will always remember him most as Angel Eyes, in TGTBATU. 



I really hope this is good!  It looks very interesting and slightly terrifying!  Ridley Scott in classic form, it would seem. 


Looking forward into 2012

So 2011 was a tremendous year for film, I think we can all agree.  Despite it not being a banner year for box office receipts, it was for emerging talent and innovative concepts.  The studios may not have been happy, as there was no Batman sequel or INCEPTION-like tentpole from Christopher Nolan, nor was there a runaway summer superhero or action film, in fact many of the much-hyped titles all but flopped.  Instead, we see character driven movies, smaller independent stories, and sophomore efforts from promising filmmakers emerge once it was clear capital-H Hollywood had little to offer.  We saw rise of Jessica Chastain, Ryan Gosling, and Michael Fassbender, we saw Werner Herzog take documentary filmmaking to new heights and dimensions, and many auteur filmmakers added titles to their respective oeuvres: Woody Allen, Terence Malick, Alexander Payne, Lars von Trier, and Errol Morris.  Hollywood struck back in December, compensating with their lackluster summer, with huge titles like Spielberg's THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, Brad Bird's MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL, and David Fincher's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, which are all fairly safe projects for the studios given the bankable stars, directors, and subject matter.

So what does 2012 hold?  Who will rise and triumph, and who will crash and burn?  Hollywood has a promising slate: possibly the biggest film of the year will be Christopher Nolan's much hyped final chapter in his Batman saga, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.  Although the AMAZING SPIDERMAN, yes a re-launch of that series, might have something to say about that.  There will be an AVENGERS movie, which will also no doubt be a huge box office draw.  But what else is there?  What am I looking forward to in 2012?  (Aside from TDKR) I will tell you:

Director Rian Johnson with what may appear to be a time-traveling machine.
LOOPER, directed by Rian Johnson.

Johnson directed one of the great neo-noir films, 2005's BRICK, a gripping mystery set in a high school setting, with all the noir archtypes present: detective, kingpin, femme fatale, etc., and it worked incredibly.  He followed BRICK up with 2008's THE BROTHERS BLOOM which I enjoyed, but did not love.  LOOPER re-teams Johnson with BRICK star Joseph Gordon Levitt who has since exploded on the scene.  This time they are leaning towards sci-fi more with a story about a hitman who is sent into the future to do a hit and encounters his future self (Bruce Willis) who is waiting to be knocked off.  Or something.  That is basically what I have gleaned from the paltry amount of info on this movie.  Johnson has been running a LOOPER tumblr blog, posting post-, pre-, and production stills, as well as concept art there so it is an interesting browse!  Looking forward to this showing its face in October.

Wes Anderson, in typical garb.
MOONRISE KINGDOM, directed by Wes Anderson.

What can I say?  The Texas-born auteur returns in 2012 with another undoubtedly-charming film called MOONRISE KINGDOM, the plot of which IMDB says is so: "A pair of lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them."  It is fairly safe to say it will be funny and quirky, and will have a wonderful soundtrack full of rare Bob Dylan or Beatles or Lou Reed b-sides.  That's just speculation, but one thing that is known for sure is his ensemble cast is as big and varied as ever, including Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray (yeah!), Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, and Jason Schwartzman.  Plus I wouldn't be surprised if a Wilson brother or two made an appearance.  Personally, I feel Anderson peaked early in his career with BOTTLE ROCKET, RUSHMORE, and THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS.  I will admit I did not love either THE LIFE AQUATIC nor THE DARJEELING LIMITED, but FANTASTIC MR. FOX was amazing and restored my faith, so let's hope he is on the rise to a second peak in his career, this time staying there for good.

Ridley Scott and xenomorph
 PROMETHEUS, directed by Ridley Scott.

I love Ridley Scott's films when I get the sense he is completely submersing himself in a project.  Now that may seem ridiculous, because he is a professional director, but some of his films are different, think BLADE RUNNER, ALIEN, GLADIATOR.  There is something in these films that sets them apart, and for that reason they have become landmark films in their respective genres: sci-fi, sci-fi/horror, and historical action, respectively.  I deeply hope, that PROMETHEUS can be added to this trope.  PROMETHEUS is the prequel/sequel/different-story-same-universe to Scott's 1979 classic ALIEN, (along with the three other titles in this series), which has prompted much speculation and rumoring about the content.  There is talk it will reveal clues to the origins of the Aliens of title, of man himself, and even the universe.  Most interestingly perhaps, it will reveal some back-story about the enigmatic and unexplained "Space Jockey" seen in Scott's 1979 filmThe trailer swept through just before Christmas and provided some suspenseful imagery; I think it is safe to say the Alien series is being taken back into the sci-fi/horror genre.  The cast also looks excellent with Noomi Rapace (the original Lisbeth Salander), Michael Fassbender, Patrick Wilson, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Guy Pearce.  Let's hope this turns out to be as good as we all want it to be!

Cuarón on the CHILDREN OF MEN set.

GRAVITY, directed by Alfonso Cuarón.

Cuarón is responsible for one of my favorite films, the epic CHILDREN OF MEN, as well as the very excellent Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, so naturally I perked up when I heard he was doing another sci-fi film, this time with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.  Rumors have also been swirling around this one, of a wildly technologically ambitious film told through motion capture, 3D, and most recently, of it being told in one long take, something Cuarón dazzled me with in CHILDREN OF MEN.  No doubt if it is "one long take", there will be cuts hidden digitally here and there, but it will be quite impressive.  I wonder if that means the story will be in real-time also?  Another news item that has recently come up is that Cuarón has said "no" to his actors wearing make-up in the film.  Interesting!  I'm sure this film will get a lot of press for its innovations when the publicity campaign ramps up in the months before its alledged November 21 release date.